Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Author’s Preface


Chapter One:  “The Baptism in the Holy Spirit”

Chapter Two:  “BiHS and Water Baptism”

Chapter Three:  “Spirit-Power:  Miracles at Conversion”

Chapter Four:  “Grace-Gifts”

Chapter Five:  “Only Through the Word?”

Chapter Six:  “Sanctification:  Making Saints”

Chapter Seven:  “Spiritual Warfare and Mission”

Chapter Eight:  “Claims for and against the Spirit”

Chapter Nine:  “Pentecostalism”

Chapter Ten:  “Heresy”

Chapter Eleven:  “Righteousness, Peace, and Joy”

Chapter Twelve:  “Profile of a Spiritless Church”

Chapter Thirteen:  “The Spirit of Jesus”

Chapter Fourteen:  “Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit”

Chapter Fifteen:  “In Step with the Spirit”




Author's Preface

Author’s Preface

Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you

in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins;

and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:38 (ASV)



Are churches of Christ in trouble over the Holy Spirit?  There are two viewpoints within our fellowships.  Some believe that we are indwelt by the Spirit of God; that the Holy Spirit resides in our hearts—personally, directly, literally, and actually.  But others deny the indwelling.  Sometimes the denial is outright.  It may be acknowledged that there actually is a “third member of the Godhead” known as the Holy Spirit, however some will say that He does not indwell us—personally, directly, literally, and actually.  

Some would deny that there is any meaningful difference between the two perspectives.  In fact, some see a fundamental “agreement” between them:  “Both sides believe in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, they just disagree over how the Spirit indwells.”  The real issue may be nothing more than semantics—with each side using peculiar language (a mere “shibboleth”) that is unfamiliar to the other side.  With this communication barrier between them, they just imagine there is a real disagreement when, in reality, they are both sharing a lot of common ground in their beliefs.

Another analysis of the conflict is to admit that the two sides have serious differences in their belief systems, but then suggest that the two beliefs can co-exist in complete compatibility in church fellowship.  In other words, this issue is seen as essentially inconsequential.  The apostle Paul discussed issues that were simply “matters of opinion” (rather than “matters of faith”), and this Holy Spirit debate is seen as one of these.

Still others may feel that all matters of Bible belief are trivial.  The truest concerns of the church are all social, while matters of theology are meaningless.  You can believe what you want about God, and Satan, and angels, and demons, and miracles.  Or, you can believe none of it.  What really matters is that we love one another.  Others, of course, see theological matters having priority over those that are social.  In any conflict situation, people are driven—in varying strengths—by two factors:

·        Low regard for both principles and people (so they simply avoid conflict).

·        High regard for people, but low regard for principles (as long as people are kept together, they will comply without fussing over principles).

·        High regard for principles, but low regard for people (so they enter conflict as s competition and expect to win, even if people get hurt).

·        Moderate regard for both people and principles (to hold some minimal concern in each area brings a conflict style of compromise).

·        High regard both for people and for principles (they insist that keeping people together requires building relationships on solid principles).

Each of these conflict styles[1] is appropriate under certain circumstances.  However, each of them—with the exception of the last one—may also be quite inappropriate in certain circumstances.  As you read this book, you will be challenged to place appropriate value on both the people and on the principles involved in this matter of the Holy Spirit within our churches of Christ. 

If we all can come to agreement on our valuation of Bible beliefs and of love for Christians, we will find ourselves in a strong position to move forward together.  Otherwise, if our values are fundamentally different, it will be undeniably plain that churches of Christ really are in trouble over the Holy Spirit.

The American Restoration Movement

The discussion that follows assumes as valid—and even as crucial—the goal that has driven the American Restoration Movement since it began in the late 18th and early 19th centuries:  uniting Christians from all denominations in a fellowship joined in complete unity by going back-to-the-Bible to find a suitable platform on which such unity may be built.  This has been the goal and the dream that has driven the unique identity of churches of Christ across many decades and a few centuries. 

Although arising in relatively late in history, our “non-denominational” stance finds its first impulse in the NT, where the “church of Christ” is launched on a journey through the centuries.  When the church began her journey, unity of fellowship characterized the entire membership.  This is our true heritage in churches of Christ (we did not originate only in the 1700’s or 1800’s).

But what began well, led to the “denominationalism” that began with a departure from Biblical foundations by Catholicism and ended with the rise of Protestantism (which “protested” against Catholiciscm).  The indivisible church of the NT became the indivisible Catholicism (for a period of centuries), which became a Christendom divided into more Protestant “denominations” than can be counted.  Anyone with an eye for Christian unity will see this as a monstrous problem.

Although some will refuse to recognize any problem with denominational Christianity, it has led to divisions that prevent Christians from worshiping and cooperating together.  Each denomination retains an exclusive identity, that marks out “one of us” from “one of them.”  Each group tends to have its own set of peculiar beliefs (formerly expressed in “creeds”), that further reinforce the separation between one believer and another.  Not only is it obvious that “all” of these differing beliefs cannot be true and valid reflections of the NT revelation in the Bible, but some of the issues have direct implications for salvation.  If these issues are not gotten right, someone is going to lose his/her salvation!

Churches of Christ have responded to this recent history that has generated a fractured and fragmented fellowship.  We want—and are willing to work—to
“restore” the unity of the church that Jesus died to save.  This is the reason we call ourselves the “Restoration Movement.”  Such unity is important to us because it is important to our Lord.  This book advocates Restoration as a noble and worthy goal for those who wear the name of Christ Jesus.

The Holy Spirit and Restoration

The Holy Spirit is vitally important to the work of “restoration.”  In the first place, the Christianity we seek to restore has the Spirit as its power source.  Without this power, we cannot succeed.  In the second place, the issue has to potential to divide our fellowship.  That is to say, it may oppose our essential goal and dream, rather than advance it!  Restoration itself hangs in the balance. 

The issue discussed in this book is, therefore, an “internal issue” for our fellowship, for churches of Christ, for the American Restoration Movement.  But note carefully that it is also an “external issue” that has ramifications for our relations with those outside of our fellowship.  As we seek to enter undivided union with believers from denominational backgrounds, by going “back-to-the-Bible”, this issue could well become a “sticking point” in that process!

For example, the big sticking point, historically, has been disagreement over baptism as a factor in Christian conversion and salvation.  What happens if we are able to resolve this conundrum (as we will discuss, it looks like tremendous progress is being made here, even as we speak)?  What happens if those, who were on opposite sides of the baptism-issue but now agree, are ready to take the next step towards securing unity together in Christ?  What happens if our denominational friends (who assuredly believe in the indwelling Spirit) discover that we in churches of Christ (or, at least, some of us) do not share their beliefs?  Will we be able to take the “next step” together?  Or will this issue, if unresolved now, then be a “sticking point” that derails the big dream of Restorationism, just at the time when God seemed to have finally made our dream a reality?  I hope every reader shares with me a sense of dread at such failure.

There are precious people in the balance; there are precious principles of belief and conviction in the balance.  This book is a challenge to embrace them both.  It dares to challenge us with a terribly vital question:  Are churches of Christ in trouble over the Holy  Spirit?

[1] An excellent analysis of church conflict based on these two factors is offered by James Hinkle and Tim Woodroof, Among Friends:  You can help make your church a warmer place (Colorado Springs, CO:  NavPress, 1989), pp. 125-146.



Three remarkable events:  one in the beginning of Genesis, one in the beginning of two Gospels, and one in the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles.  The Holy Spirit features in vital “conceptions” and “births” across the revelation of the Bible (which the Spirit also conceived through “inspiration”, giving birth to the Word of God).  Each event occurs in an age in which a different member of the Trinity predominates:

·        In Genesis, the age dominated by God the Father opens with the Spirit giving “conception” and “birth” to the new Creation—the cosmos. 

·        Then, when God the Son takes center stage in the next age of Divine history, at the beginning of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, the Holy Spirit works the “conception” and “birth” of Jesus in the womb of Mary. 

·        When, finally, the Spirit is given His own age as the “front-man” of the Godhead, in the opening chapters of Acts, the passing is marked by an event so sublimely spectacular:  the Pentecostal outpouring, called “the baptism in/with/by the Holy Spirit.”  When the Spirit descends—sent by Father and by Son—He gives “conception” and “birth” to the church of Christ. 

In each case, Supernatural begets something in the natural realm—cosmos, then Christ, then church.

Cosmos, Christ, Church—no small achievements for the Third Member of the Trinity!  May our hearts be swept into wondrous worship!  After this it is small wonder indeed, that the creation of each individual Christian involves a supernatural “conception” and “birth.”  Our baptism, parallel to the baptism of Jesus, is a birth “of water and of Spirit”, a “new birth” into a living hope.

However, more astonishing than all of this, is that some in churches of Christ are denying the Holy Spirit an indwelling, sanctifying, empowering presence in the heart of Christians!  This indwelling Presence is denied outright by some, but others deny the Spirit a place in the heart by claiming that He dwells there “only through the Word.”  This is a painful and embarrassing admission.

For many Christians, the Holy Spirit is like our appendix (the mysterious organ appended to our large intestine).  We believe we have one, but we don’t have a clue what it does in there!  This book speaks where the Bible speaks on such matters.  Yet it must be admitted that such doctrinal knowledge is only the starting point for exploring the work of the Spirit.  While writing the letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul found himself struggling with the limitations of language and speech when trying to set forth the full scope of the activity of the Spirit.  The most far-reaching superlatives just don’t go far enough!  We therefore cannot claim that this book reaches boundaries for the Spirit’s working, beyond which He cannot pass!  Indeed, we strongly suspect that He might fill our personal experiences in Christ Jesus in ways that transcend Biblical description.  God can be depended upon to act in concert with—so as to never violate—His written Word, but the possibilities opened by the Scriptures are tantalizingly broad and suggestive.

Recognition of the Holy Spirit’s role and function secures Christianity as a truly supernatural experience.  We live in a sadly secular age that denies the supernatural at every turn.  Strange enough, but how can we explain the patently "anti-supernatural" spirituality that is found in (some) modern churches?  Contrary to this Zeitgeist, Biblical revelation insists there exists another, invisible realm—somehow ”beyond” and “above” the one we inhabit.  Moreover, the Bible insists this realm is the domain of spiritual beings—the Triune-God (Father, Son, and Spirit), Satan, angels, and demons.  It insists these metaphysical inhabitants of this spiritual realm, both good and evil, reach into our own physical realm and tug at us, sometimes with terrifying power, to pull us to one side or the other of the cosmic battle between God and His enemies.  The Holy Spirit is active in the spiritual warfare, and we dare not deny Him!  Before we deny the supernatural, we should remember the words of William R. Inge, “Whoever marries the spirit of this age [i.e. Zeitgeist] will find himself a widower in the next.”

This book started with conflict.  It ends with hope.  The doctrine expressed in this book was not produced merely from a backlash in the bitterness of conflict.  It had been woven into my beliefs long before trouble started.  My hope is that we will positively embrace the Holy Spirit, reaching heights of experience with God that go beyond what we have known before—individually, congregationally, and as universal church of Christ.

I also found hope, under stress and persecution, from God’s words of comfort :     

Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.  Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you

(Matt. 5:11-12, ASV).

When trouble came, we who believe in the Spirit were outnumbered in the church.  It would have been easier to avoid the conflict.  But the indwelling Spirit did not give His sword—the Bible—only for us to let it rust in its sheath.  We knew we had to act.  True Christians would do what we did.  Several of us in that church suffered.  We had nothing to gain.  Then afterward, we found comfort from God.

We began with hope revealed in Scripture, and see signs of hope also in the events unfolding in our day, in our place in history.  The author is a committed Restorationist, lifelong.  Uniting Christians, from all denominations, into a single, undivided fellowship in Christ (and in His Spirit) under God has been my heartbeat since the baptismal waters flooded over my head.  Progress has been stalled for long decades of history, but there are signs that God finds this present day to be His time to act and move.  Let’s consider some reasons for optimism here.

First, there is a trend in Bible studies called “the new perspective on Paul” (see my article “An Offstage Perspective on the NPP” at http://conservativerestorationist.blogspot.com/2011/10/offstage-perspective-on-npp-by-john-g.html, or ask me for the 2011 DVD presentation produced by James Wong and myself, “A New Perspective on the Restoration Movement”).  In short, a new discovery in the teachings of the apostle Paul is now removing the largest barrier to acceptance of the saving role of baptism by our denominational friends.  Many in denominational circles are reclaiming the truth about baptism (even while some of my own brethren in churches of Christ are going wobbly on the issue).  Historically, this has been our biggest sticking point and God is now resolving it.

Second, it looks like the Holy Spirit is capturing the minds and hearts of believers in our day and in a new way.  I offer Francis Chan as evidence.  Chan preaches Acts 2:38 like a Restorationist.  But he is not one of us, at least by affiliation.  He is one of us, however, through the kinship of shared beliefs.  The preacher in the church we just left would quote only half of Acts 2:38—leaving off the concluding part about the Holy Spirit as a gift to baptized believers!  Chan believes the whole verse—just as churches of Christ have done historically, and still do in the majority.  He believes in the indwelling Spirit.  But, Chan is careful to reject those aspects of Pentecostalism that put some of our people in a backlash mode so fierce, that they rejected—not just Pentecostalism—but the Holy Spirit himself!  But Chan does believe in a Spirit that both indwells us and projects power.  He and I may come by different paths of affiliation—but we have come to the same place in Bible belief.  It is sufficient for me to gladly extend to him the right hand of fellowship.

Francis Chan is my brother in Christ.  We share the same Spirit, the same Lord.  Worship the same God.  This book is a call-back to those who have rejected the Spirit, to unite on the truth of Bible revelation with any and all who will join us here.

And Chan is not alone; he stands representatively for the multitudes of believers, of different stripes, who have been separated from us (in churches of Christ) by the confusion of competing denominations.  In the past, Protestant denominations resisted baptism, as a necessity in salvation, with all their strength.  The “new perspective” is changing this and making opportunity for the fellowship we should share in Christ.  It is this most curious convergence of interest in the Holy Spirit—inside and outside of churches of Christ—with a renewed respect for baptism—inside and outside of our churches—that seems to carry the promise of a big harvest among those of us driven nobly in God’s service to a “Restoration of the Ancient Order.”  This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes!

As I put the final touches on this book, I am buoyant upon this hope.  And, in hope, I set it before my readers. 




Sunday, November 11, 2012

The "Covenant Relationship" Class

The Covenant Relationship

The covenant relationship is as vital and central to Christianity as it was to Judaism.  It is the same relational form that exists between husband and wife in marriage. 

The following lessons are the course-notes I used to teach a church class on the “relational dynamics” of the covenant relationship.  I offer it here to make this material available to a larger audience.

Unfortunately, uploading the material to this blog failed to bring across some of the graphics, photos, and charts.  Some of these are entirely missing; others have lost their original format.  When I taught this course, I prepared Power-Point slides that greatly enhance the material.  These, unfortunately, also cannot be brought to the blog.

Even with these technical shortcomings, the essence of the material offers something of great value to husband, wife, and Christian.  May God richly bless you as your understanding of covenant-relating deepens.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Covenant Class, Lesson 1

The Covenant Relationship
Lesson One

What is a covenant?   For now, let’s just say that a covenant is a specially designed relationship that:

--joins partners together from the heart

--binds them together in unending faithfulness

--and gives them joy, fulfillment, and security

Why is the covenant relationship important?  First, some very important relationships take the form of covenants:

--the relationship between God and Jewish people (in the Old Testament)

--the relationship between God and Christian people (in the New Testament)

--the relationship between husband and wife (in marriage)

Understanding covenant helps us understand the Bible.  Mont W. Smith writes, “The idea of covenant is inseparably connected to every major idea in the Bible.”  Covenant is often the “hidden connector” that ties Bible concepts together.  Walther Eichrodt wrote a major, two-volume theology of the Old Testament.  He used the concept of “covenant” as the organizing feature that made sense of the OT approach to God.  Much of the uniquely “religious” language that we find in the Bible (such as faithfulness, righteousness, judgment, curses, blessings, and sin) is actually language that is descriptive of covenantal relating. 

Covenant helps solve the “puzzle” of the Bible.  We might suggest three areas of study that can dramatically increase our Biblical understanding:
1. The Bible Story-line.  When we understand the plot that drives the overall story told by the Bible, it gives us the “puzzle frame” into which we can fit the smaller pieces of Bible knowledge.  We can use a rough chronology to understand the sequence to discern God’s logic and strategy.

2. The Covenant Relationship.  The Bible’s main topic is not God; nor is it humanity.  Rather, it is the relationship between God and people.  The inner workings of covenant relationships go a long way to explaining why God reacts and responds differently to different people under different circumstances.  This understanding helps to connect the “inner puzzle pieces.”

3. Church History.  As history unfolds, it drives people to different concerns.  And these concerns serve to illuminate certain truths from God’s Word.  Sometimes we are driven to deeper understanding, and other times we are driven to misunderstanding.  Only by understanding the past can we realize how our own understanding of the Bible has been influenced.  Church history often helps us solve the dilemmas we face when “puzzle pieces just don’t fit.”

Covenant makes both people and God more understandable and predictable.  Relationships are hard to hold together without external restraints (police, legal system, etc.).  A covenant brings internal stability and predictability to relationships.  Partners in covenant treat each other in ways that few others can expect—love, faithfulness, devotion, and undivided loyalty. 

This is also true for those who share a covenant with God.  The most common characteristics of false gods are their unpredictability, capriciousness, and chaotic reactions.  By binding Himself to covenants with people, God made Himself very predictable and reliable.  The most common description of God in the Old Testament is “covenant keeper” (Ex. 34:6; Deut. 7:7-9; Neh. 9:16-21).

A covenant thus brings security unrivaled by any other form of relationship.  Marriage is remarkably stable and enduring.  If it seems to be failing in the modern day, it is because spouses are not honoring God and are failing their covenants.  Covenants also have been very successful in creating “covenant communities”, such as the theocratic nation of Israel and the global church of Christ. 

Covenant helps us make sense of history.  Apart from the idea of “covenant”, history is only a series of meaningless cycles.  Instead of this circular pattern, the idea of covenant draws a line that measures progress or regress relative to the relationship of people with God.  This allows a “linear” understanding of history that flows through many centuries of time.  The idea of “Old Covenant (or Testament)” and “New Covenant” marks out not only blocks of Scripture, but different eras of history.

Covenant Class, Lesson 2

The Covenant Relationship
Lesson Two

Discovering the meaning of “covenant”.

John Bright makes an important observation:    “Apart from the Old Testament, indeed, it is impossible to understand the significance of our Lord’s work as the New Testament writers saw it.  Likewise, the New Testament tells of the making of the new covenant and understands the relationship of the believer to his Lord and to his fellow believers as a covenantal one; yet it nowhere troubles to explain what a covenant is.  But, again, why should it?  Is it not sufficiently clear from the Old Testament?”

Our primary source must be the OT.  However, there is no one passage that defines covenant, nor are there many “proof-texts” which can be strung together.  Walther Eichrodt insists instead that the OT contains “the characteristic description of a living process.”  In other words, we have to fashion our understanding by observing what partners (both human and Divine) do when they relate covenantally and synthesize the results into a working definition.  We can also use observations from other ancient cultures (such as Syrian and Hittite) to strengthen the limited OT material.

Stronger than blood!

In future lessons, we will look closely at the OT.  For now, notice that the powerful effect of covenant is its ability to bring strangers into a relationship that is as strong—or even stronger—than blood kinship!  Covenant partners become brothers or sisters.  To achieve this, the covenant combines legal requirements (expressed in laws, obligations, or vows) with Divine oversight. 

Levels of formality.

Whether very informal or highly formal, the inner workings of covenants are the same.  Even basic human interactions are somewhat covenantal.  We share an understanding of “common courtesy” that binds one and all in expectations of social behavior.  Thus, we frown on line-cutters and tellers of lies, even when we are complete strangers with no formal relationship.  We expect faithfulness in honesty and fair play, and this is also part of covenant relating.  Notice this chart:

Type of Relationship
Level of formality
Means of expression
Basic human interaction
Implicit, unspoken
Ordinary covenants
Spoken to partner
Formal treaties
Written, oath and witnesses



The most basic human relationships have expectations that are unspoken.  These are the least formal.  Ordinary covenants between people are more formal in that the mutual obligations are declared verbally, and often in private.  The most formal covenants are legal treaties and the covenants by which God designates His people.  These are put down in writing in a public record.  When looking at how covenants work, the level of formality is unimportant.

Here are the essential features of the covenant relationship:

·        a bilateral partnership:  essentially two-sided.  It is a joining of partners in a relationship that fully intends mutual benefit and so requires mutual participation.  Walther Eichrodt writes, “…[covenant]…was always regarded as a bilateral relationship; for even though the burden is most unequally distributed between the two contracting parties, this makes no difference to the fact that the relationship is still essentially two-sided.  The idea that in ancient Israel the [covenant] was always and only thought of as Yahweh’s pledging of himself, to which human effort was required to make no kind of response…, can therefore be proved to be erroneous.”

·        often unequal:  equal or unequal obligations.  In parity (equality) partnerships, partners would mutually agree to the same obligations.  In a suzerainty/vassal arrangement, the “lord” (or “suzerain”) would set down the list of obligations (similar to terms of surrender) and his “servant” (or “vassal”) would swear an oath to abide by them.  The issue of equality may be thought of as part of the “outer structure”, while the inner dynamics of relating (such as love and faithfulness) would be essentially the same in both equal and unequal relationships.

·        religious:  God is witness and enforcer, and perhaps actual covenant partner.  Even in covenants in which God (or gods) was not an actual partner, God (or gods) served as witness and enforcer who brought about the blessings or curses.  The text of a formal covenant, or treaty, was often stored in a temple.

·        legal:  obligations in laws or vows.  It is understood that each partner must accept obligations if the covenant is to achieve the success of mutual benefit.  Eichrodt writes, “The covenant becomes an expression of the fact that God and the people have been thrown together and that neither can well survive without the other.”  Often these obligations are formally expressed through “vows” which are sworn-to with an “oath”.

·        requires total personal commitment and faithfulness.  Eichrodt writes, “The covenant lays claim to the whole man and calls him to surrender with no reservations.”  The solemn nature is shown in the association with animal sacrifice with its implicit threat to the partners.  In ancient Mari, the phrase “to kill an ass” is equivalent to “make a covenant” (and, to “kill an ass of peace” the equivalent of the Biblical “make a covenant of peace”).

·        specific.  The obligations attached to a covenant pertain only to those bound by the covenant.

·        often exclusive towards competing interests.  One covenant partner is often forbidden to allow a third party to acquire a portion of the benefit that might be a rightful expectation of the other partner.  Thus, a husband and wife can share sexuality only with each other, and sharing with others is a breach of covenant.  A failure in covenant is called “sin.”

·        conditional:  may result either in blessings or curses.  When one partner honors the other and their relationship, the appropriate response is “blessings.”  Otherwise, the response is punitive through “curses.”

·        remedial:  After a partner sins, the covenant is often “gracious” and makes reasonable opportunity for a remedial course of action.  Some failures or sins are understood to not undermine the essential love and faithfulness required of partners; that foundation can still sustain the partnership.  Other failures are so egregious and damaging that the foundation is understood to have been broken, and forgiveness becomes impossible.